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Recently finished reading The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on July 31st, 2016.

artichoke_harissa_cream

Do you like artichokes? They’re not available everywhere, I know, and some folks just can’t seem to wrap their arms (or their mouths) around scraping the essence of the stem-end of each artichoke leaf through their teeth to gain this little tiny half a teaspoon of artichoke essence.

Growing up, my mother prepared artichokes frequently. They’re available many months of the year at the grocery stores here in California. They’re grown in abundance in the Salinas Valley, in the north end of the central part of California. And they grow well in other NoCal climes. My mother always put out a little bowl of mayo and we dipped each end into the mayo and scraped away. As I recall, my mom made ONE artichoke and the 3 of us shared it. It was never enough in my book.

When I married my DH, Dave, I soon discovered that he was an artichoke and BUTTER guy. He wanted a little bowl of melted butter to dip his artichoke. But after awhile he stopped using the butter and used nothing. He definitely didn’t like the mayo dip at all. My DH adored the artichoke heart, so I usually let him have my half too. He used to tell the story about his wonderful dog, Woof (a collie) who was a very bright dog. She died long before I met Dave. Dave taught her to scrape the artichoke. He’d hold the leaf and she’d ever so gently pull off the little bit of it. She LOVED them.

Recently I craved an artichoke, and saw some really pretty ones at the store. I pressure-cooked it for about 15 minutes. Just now I went on the ‘net and found recipes suggesting everything from 6 minutes (Kalyn’s Kitchen) to 22 minutes on one other, with several others suggesting times in between. Me? I added about a cup of water to the pressure cooker, squeezed half of a lemon into the water, cut the artichoke in half, leaving the choke intact, put them on a rack and pressure cooked them for the 15 minutes. Once cooled some, I used a spoon to remove the choke and let the artichokes cool to room temp. If the artichoke you buy is really big, use a longer cooking time; shorter if they’re smaller, obviously. Half an artichoke is a good-sized serving. I ate it with my dinner, but it also makes a nice appetizer too.

Then I mixed up the dipping sauce: nothing more than mayo, harissa sauce (if you want to know more about harissa, read my 2012 blog post about using it on lamb kebabs), a little bit of bacon jam (some high end markets carry this, it’s a refrigerated little jar, costs the moon, but it lasts forever), plus a little squeeze of lemon juice.

What’s GOOD: well, now, I love artichokes, so there’s no question any mayo-based sauce would taste great in my book, but if you want to make it special, try the addition of harissa and bacon jam. Delicious.

What’s NOT: nothing really, except the harissa is spicy; probably not to children’s tastes.

printer-friendly PDF or MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Harissa Bacon Mayo for Artichokes

Recipe By: My own concoction
Serving Size: 2

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon harissa — or more to taste
1 teaspoon bacon jam
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice — or more to taste

1. In a small bowl combine all ingredients. If time permits, let rest in the refrigerator for an hour or so for the flavors to meld.
2. Serve along side a cooked artichoke.
Per Serving: 271 Calories; 32g Fat (97.6% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 1g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 14mg Cholesterol; 227mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts, Veggies/sides, on June 29th, 2016.

moms_pear_pie

It’s been decades since I made this pie. And it’s SO easy to prepare (well, IF you have frozen pie crusts standing by). You can buy Bosc pears year ‘round now, so anytime could be pear pie season.

A few weeks ago I made an astounding pear cobbler I wrote up about just a few days ago. I don’t exactly post my recipes in order as I make them, but that pear cobbler made me think about a recipe I hadn’t made for decades, my Mom’s pear pie. I had to go hunting for the recipe – it was in my little orange binder that I used when I first began to have enough recipes to save. Some of the recipes in there are in my mother’s handwriting, though this one was not – my mom must have kind of dictated it to me. It’s hardly a recipe, so I had to write it a bit better for posting here.

The pear cobbler is long gone – I served it to a group and it all disappeared except for one serving that’s in my freezer. But it certainly did resonate in my palate, telling me to eat more pears. Then, in the interim I either read or heard from somewhere that when you’re baking pears, the best ones to use are Bosc. Well, it was too late; I’d already bought 4 Bartlett pears with the thought that I’d make this pear pie. I also bought a package of 2 Marie Callender’s pie crust shells (frozen). I know they’re good; good enough for this pie, for sure. I don’t bake pies very often – always because making the crust is just such a nuisance. That will forever be changed now that Marie’s pie shells are available. Whoopee! I have a number of pies I’d like to make, some that date back to the 60s that I’ve never bothered to include here on my blog. I’d also like to update two pies that are old favorites.

crust_with_raw_pearsSo, this pie. I don’t know the history of it, other than I know it was my mother’s mother’s recipe. My grandmother’s name was Isis, and she was a very good baker. She and my grandfather lived all their lives on a farm in the central valley here in California – in Stanislaus (pronounced STAN-is-law) County, near Modesto. My grandmother cooked 3 meals a day for the entirety of their marriage, I imagine. There were years when there was almost no money (my mother went to junior college, then worked and HAD to send money home to her parents because they might have lost the farm altogether). She had 2 older brothers and 2 sisters, and I expect they may have sent money home too if they had extra during those skim depression years. I have a number of recipes from my grandmother Isis. I recently bought some apricots, thinking I’d make an old time recipe for an apricot cobbler. That recipe might have belonged to my great aunt. Not sure.

Anyway, this pear pie is just so easy to make. I had 4 Bartlett pears (use Bosc if you have them) and after peeling them I just sliced them directly into the frozen pie crust. See photo above. They were quite juicy – maybe too juicy. Then I mixed up the “filling,” which was merely sugar, a little bit of flour, an egg and a jot of vanilla. That was stirred up and topping_pear_piedrizzled all over the top of the pears. See photo at right. I used a spatula to kind of help the topping/filling to cover most of the pears. Then I dotted the top with butter and into a hot oven it went for about 10 minutes. Then the temp was turned down to 325° and baked for another 35-45 minutes, until the filling was golden brown and set.

Letting it cool was essential, and it held onto the heat for quite a while. My mother almost always served this with whipped cream, but you could also use vanilla ice cream. I intended to sprinkle the top of the pears with cardamom, but forgot in my rush to get the topping on the pears. I did use almond flavoring rather than vanilla, however.

Photo here shows the pie with butter dotting the top, ready to go into the oven. pear_pie_ready2bakeI thought this might have been a Betty Crocker recipe, but no. I just searched for it and this is nothing like any of Betty’s pear pies. I’d guess it’s a depression-era recipe because it calls for no other ingredients like sour cream or even any spices. The sugar mixes with the egg and the presumption is that any of the juices from the pears will firm up with the flour added into the filling/topping. The eggy mixture does slip down between the layers of pears and surrounds the pears.

I enjoyed 2 slices, then gave the rest of it to my neighbors, who have 2 little girls with hungry appetites. Both girls do swimming and water polo – the mom is a full time “bus” driver for the girls.

What’s GOOD: if you’re looking for straight-forward pear taste, this is it. Nothing else, really, to distract your taste buds – pears, sugar, a little flour, an egg, flavoring and butter dotting the top. That’s all there is to it. It’s very juicy – if you use Bosc they may not be quite so much so. I actually liked it plain with no topping at all.

What’s NOT: really nothing – it’s easy to make if you have already made pie  shells, or will buy frozen ones. It took about 10-15 minutes to put it all together and stick it in the oven.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Mom’s Pear Pie

Recipe By: My Mother’s recipe, handed down from her mother.
Serving Size: 8

1 pie crust (9 inch) — unbaked
4 whole pears — Bosc, preferably
3/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract — or almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Peel the pears (if using Bartlett it’s not necessary to peel, but it will look nicer if you do), quarter, core and slice the pears into the pie shell. The pears should gently mound the pie shell (they shrink during baking).
3 In a small bowl combine the sugar and flour, mix well with a fork. Crack the egg into the middle, add the flavoring (almond or vanilla extract) and mix well. Using a spoon or fork, dab the mixture all over the top of the pears. There may be a couple of spots where pears aren’t covered, but do your best. Using a spatula, gently try to spread it over all the filling.
4 Cut tiny pieces of the butter and sprinkle over the filling.
5 Place the pie on a metal baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 325° and continue to bake for another 30-45 minutes or until the top is golden and the filling looks set. Cool. Serve warm or at room temp with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If desired, add a tiny jot of almond extract to the whipped cream instead of vanilla. You can also sprinkle the top of the pears with about 1/2 tsp. of ground cardamom (not in my mother’s recipe).
Per Serving: 266 Calories; 9g Fat (30.4% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 45g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 32mg Cholesterol; 155mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 21st, 2016.

roasted_carrots_platter

Can I just say, this was one of the best-est dishes I’ve eaten of late. I feel like I’d like to devour that entire platter. What is it? Multi-colored carrots roasted, then tossed with a unique kind of dressing that contains raisins, hazelnuts and thyme. It’s serve with Greek yogurt and sumac flecked pita chips (at left on the platter).

Some weeks ago I attended a cooking class where this was prepared. I took pictures, but they didn’t come out all that well, so lo, and behold, another blogger, Adde of thisishowicook.com made this lovely dish and kindly has let me share HER photo she took when she made it. I’ll be making this sometime soon, then I’ll take my own photos. Thanks, Adde.

This masterpiece isn’t hard. But it does take a bit of time to do – the carrots need to be prepped (easy) then tossed with oil and spices and they’re roasted for about 30 minutes. Also not hard, but then you want to make the pita chips slathered with some oil and peppered with sumac and baked/toasted in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Then, the mixture you eventually toss with the carrots must be prepped – raisins, nuts, thyme, sumac cooked in a bit of butter. Once the carrots are done, you toss them with this raisin mixture and you platter them. Now, I think Adde did it according to the original Sunset recipe – yogurt on the bottom, then the carrots and pita chips. Our instructor put the carrots down first, then plopped Greek yogurt on top. Your choice as to how you do it.

spiced_carrots_yogurt_pitaWhat I will tell you for sure – this dish is off the charts. The carrots become soft and succulent and take on such a lovely sweetness from the caramelization going on during the roasting. The combo of raisins and hazelnuts is brilliant – I’d never have put those two together, nor combine them with carrots! Then you complement them with the yogurt and pita chips. Oh yum.

This can be served as an appetizer, using the sumac pita chips as your scoop, but it would be best to have small plates and forks as the carrots might be a bit difficult to eat. Or, in the class I attended, the chef served it as a side dish with chicken, which was also very lovely.

What’s GOOD: Oh my gosh. I just couldn’t get enough of this – probably it’s the sugar/sweet taste of the carrots, but complemented by the raisins and hazelnuts just makes this dish unctuous.

What’s NOT: well, you can’t throw this together in 30 minutes – it takes a bit longer. Hopefully you have hazelnuts on hand, and Greek yogurt AND the sumac. And pita bread rounds and multi-colored carrots. For me, this will require a special trip to the grocery store to make sure I have everything.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Roasted Carrot Platter

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, 12/2014
Serving Size: 8

5 tablespoons olive oil — divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt — divided
2 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac — divided
4 pita bread rounds — 6″ across
Zest of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pound carrots — medium sized, peeled and sliced diagonally 1/4″ thick and 2 to 3″ long
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup hazelnuts — very coarsely chopped roasted
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves — divided (fresh)
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt, full-fat
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — coarsely chopped

NOTES: Buy the multi-colored carrots if you can find them – they make for a beautiful platter.
1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, combine 3 tbsp. oil, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. sumac. Cut pitas in half and split them horizontally. Brush all over with sumac oil. Stack, cut into 4 wedges, and arrange on 2 rimmed baking sheets.
2. Bake pita chips, turning once, until deep golden and crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool.
3. Increase oven to 450°. In bowl used for pita oil, combine 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. sumac, the lemon zest, coriander, cumin, and remaining 2 tbsp. oil. Add carrots; toss to coat. Spread evenly on 1 rimmed baking sheet. Roast carrots, stirring once, until browned at edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool.
4. Cook butter in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until browned, 5 to 8 minutes. All at once, add raisins, hazelnuts, 1/2 tsp. thyme, and remaining 1/2 tsp. sumac. Cook, stirring, until raisins puff, 45 to 60 seconds. Let cool.
5. In a bowl, combine yogurt, 1/4 tsp. salt, and remaining 1/2 tsp. thyme.
6. Spread yogurt on a platter. In another bowl, toss carrots with nut mixture and parsley. Spoon over yogurt and serve with chips. Add more salt to taste. Or, alternately, spread the carrots on the platter and then spoon the yogurt on top, sprinkling a little zaatar on top, and surrounding the edges with the zaatar pita chips you’ve made.
Make ahead: Through step 5, up to 5 hours; chill yogurt and carrots separately. Bring carrots to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours, before continuing.
Per Serving: 332 Calories; 21g Fat (56.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 568mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 17th, 2016.

roasted_chickpeas_zatar

Oh, I want to just reach right into that picture and grab a small handful. Don’t you? They look oiled and maybe even mushy, but trust me, they’re crispy and just tossed with a tiny bit of oil and all the spices just before serving.

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class – with a French chef – although she made a dinner of what she called Mediterranean food. Mostly I’d say the dinner was Moroccan. She cooked with a lot of zaatar, sumac, baharat and a tiny bit of fennel pollen. And one dish that was accented with apple cider molasses, which I’d never even heard of before. You’ll have the recipes eventually. All except for the pilaf she made, which was okay, but I think my own recipe, for Mujadara is better. Mujadara is a Lebanese version of pilaf. Hers was called a lentil pilaf with baharat (an herb & spice mix) and then she sprinkled some very pricey fennel pollen on top. I don’t think I got any on my portion – at least I couldn’t see any.

So, back to these chickpeas. Start off with 2 cans of garbanzos (chickpeas), drained, rinsed, and then you must let them rest and dry for an hour or so on paper towels – to DRY. Then the beans are spread out onto rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment – don’t crowd them – you’ll need at least 2 trays to do this right. They they’re roasted for quite awhile. If you’re using both trays in one oven then switch them back and forth and front to back so they all get dried and toasty. It takes about 35-45 minutes depending on your oven. Taste one now and then – you don’t want to to taste like corn nuts – that’s too much baking. But you definitely want them crispy all the way through. I’ll try this on convection bake and see how they do. Definitely don’t let them burn – that would be a total waste of them! Once they’re finally done, you need to remove a few of the skins that will have fallen off – you don’t want to serve those. The roasted beans are then tossed with a tablespoon or two or three of extra virgin olive oil and some Zaatar.

zaatar_componentsNow then, the Zaatar. I think I’ve posted a recipe for it before, but I can’t find it, if I did. At this class we got Caroline’s recipe for it, which is in the recipe below. It’s a combination of sumac, dried thyme, dried marjoram, dried oregano, roasted sesame seeds and salt.

You can see the parts of the mixture at left – Caroline made a big batch of it because she used it in several dishes. You can buy already-prepared Zaatar (also written as za’atar and zatar). Penzey’s has it, and at some better markets you’ll likely find it. You DO need sumac, though, and that’s not exactly something everyone has. In the photo, the sumac (the red stuff) is the largest component. You may find some zaatar without sumac, but I truly don’t think it would be authentic. Sumac has a kind of lemony taste – tart – but altogether delicious. It’s used in lots of Mediterranean cooking, but mostly from the southern side, like Syria, Morocco and Egypt. I’d guess sumac bushes must grow profusely in that climate.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for this appetizer – you can halve the recipe, or just use the rest of it for something else within a few months. You can prepare the zaatar a few days ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: loved the crunchy texture and the combo of the zaatar on them. They’re addicting, just so you know . . .

What’s NOT: nothing other than you’ll need to source the zaatar somewhere or make your own, in which case you’ll need sumac. Don’t try to make this without the sumac.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Roasted Chickpeas with Zaatar

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Caroline C., Califrench Cuisine
Serving Size: 6

28 ounces chickpeas, canned — rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Zaatar — (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon salt — plus a little
ZAATAR:
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt

NOTES: The Zaatar recipe makes more than you’ll need for this recipe – make half a recipe if you don’t think you’ll use it for other things.
1. Spread rinsed and drained chickpeas on paper towels to dry for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the chickpeas on the pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, stirring and rotating them every 10 minutes. Taste a chickpea to see if it’s drying enough. If they’re crunchy, they’re done, but they should be crunchy all the way through. Do not over bake, however. Taste as you go.
4. Remove from oven and remove any loose skins that have broken loose during roasting.
5. Place hot chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle with the oil, Zaatar and salt. Serve hot or warm.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 6g Fat (27.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 575mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 13th, 2016.

edamame_hummus

Healthy, but you’d never know it. Rich and creamy. Slightly green because edamame are green. No dairy in it at all – just oil and seasonings. Divine.

A few weeks ago I spent Mother’s Day with son Powell (and family) at his wife’s sister Janice’s home. They did a fabulous full-on Indian dinner catered by a great restaurant here in my neck of the woods called The Royal Khyber. Janice’s husband, though English by birth, is Indian and he’s on a first name basis with all of the staff and owners at the restaurant. When we go there we usually just tell Julian to order for us. He always orders lamb vindaloo (one of his favorites). I was particularly enamored with the ground lamb appetizer skewers. Am not sure what they were called, but they were tender, juicy and fabulous. I ate some of everything.

Janice had made this hummus with edamame which she served with a variety of fresh vegetables for dipping. She said she’d tried several similar recipes and finally settled on this one – I think it may have come from the food network, though I’m not sure. In any case, I really, really liked it, so asked Janice for the recipe, which she kindly sent.

I made this in the late morning and had that little plate full for my lunch, though I didn’t quite finish all the hummus in that bowl. I have heaps left for another day. I particularly liked it with the Persian cucumber slices, and with the more tender interior of the celery hearts. The last few bags of celery I’ve purchased have been particularly chewy and stringy. I buy organic celery because the stuff contains so much water and I want it to be non-influenced by pesticides, etc. I had to de-string several of the outer stalks and even then they were tough. Throw that bag out except for the very center.

The hummus – well, just to recap – usually it’s made with garbanzo beans – and it would be yellow. This, made with edamame was made from cooked and frozen beans (Trader Joe’s), merely defrosted and plopped into the blender along with all the other ingredients and whizzed up. I added more oil and water, and more salt and lemon juice, so I added those notes to the recipe below. I didn’t exactly measure the edamame – I think the 12 ounce bag contained about 2 cups, so I used most of it. A half a pound of cooked edamame is about 1 1/2 cups, exactly what was needed for this recipe.

I’m sure that tomorrow it will taste better once the flavors have melded together. It was so refreshing and filling. Amazingly filling, I thought. It probably would freeze okay too, just in case you need to do that. This is a really great recipe and it makes me feel good to know that I ate a very healthy lunch today. Thanks, Janice!!

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. Very clean, tasty, creamy and filling. I particularly liked it with the cucumbers, but any veggies would be fine, even cauliflower. I don’t know about broccoli, but maybe. Carrots for sure, and celery. It might even be good in a sandwich with some lettuce, tomato and sliced mild, white cheese. It might ooze, however, just so you know.

What’s NOT: nothing I can think of – easy to make, healthy for sure. It makes a lot, so reduce the quantity if you are feeding a small group or your small family. Am sure it will keep for a several days.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

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Edamame Hummus

Recipe By: From a family member, Janice G
Serving Size: 10

1 1/2 cups edamame — (green soy beans), 1/2 pound = approx 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest — freshly grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice — or more if needed
1 clove garlic — smashed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil — or more if needed
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — chopped fresh
2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley — for garnishing the serving bowl
Suggested serving: Sliced cucumbers, celery, carrot sticks and olives

1. If the edamame is raw, cook it in boiling water for about 4 minutes.
2. In a blender combine the tahini, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, parsley, spices and the edamame.
3. Drizzle in the oil and continue to blend until it’s the consistency you prefer. Add more water or oil and/or lemon juice to taste. The mixture should be soft, not overly thick. Taste for seasonings [mine needed more lemon juice, salt and oil].
4. Sprinkle with more parsley when serving with vegetables of your choice.
Per Serving: 117 Calories; 9g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 151mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on March 23rd, 2016.

shrimp_toast

Chinese in origin (I think), these little appetizer tidbits of goodness are quite easy to make. What they’re not is healthy in any way, shape, or form! There’s nothing bad in the ingredients – it’s just the frying that makes them rich, decadent, but ever-so tasty.

This appetizer is the oldest cooking class recipe I have in my collection. In fact, I didn’t even have this one entered into my MasterCook program – mostly because I hadn’t made these for about 40 years. Gosh, that one fact tells you I’m “old.” When I married the first time, way back in 1962, my then husband and I lived in Washington, D.C. for about a year. I worked for the Dept. of Agriculture during that time, and spending money on cooking classes wasn’t exactly within my budget. Then we moved to Washington State for awhile, then to Denver. It was there, back in the mid-60’s that I went to my first cooking class. I have no recollection how I found out about the class (given in someone’s home), and I still have 2 recipes from a class (or maybe more than one class). This one, and a chile relleno recipe made with canned chiles. Interestingly enough, both of the recipes were cooked in an electric frypan. Those things were very popular back then. So maybe both were made that one night and the class could have been focused on how to use the electric frypan in meal preparation. The recipe, stained with age and use (way back then) had somewhat cryptic notes – not a full-on detailed recipe as we might be used to today.

A few weeks ago – when I made these – I had a Vietnamese friend of mine come to my house and prepare a Vietnamese meal for a group of my friends. I’ll tell you about that in another post. She made spring rolls and beef pho (soup, pronounced like fuh). I rounded out the meal with appetizers (these shrimp toasts) and dessert (my lemon velvet ice cream and safari seeded cookies). So, when I was trying to figure out what to make I first searched online for Vietnamese appetizers, and mostly google came up with spring rolls. Well, we were already doing those as a first course, so I had to search farther afield, and ding-ding, this recipe came to mind. Even though it’s Chinese, not Vietnamese. Made no “never mind,” as the saying goes. They disappeared in a flash.

I forgot to take any photos of the prep process, or the frying. I was kind of busy trying to get these made just as guests were arriving, so just didn’t take the time. Here’s what’s involved. First you mince up some fresh, raw shrimp, about 1/2 cup. Then you add a couple of tablespoons of minced green onion, a dash of salt, a tablespoon of sherry (wine), a tablespoon of cornstarch and lastly, just before you’re ready to start making and frying these, 2 egg whites that have been beaten up until foamy.

shrimp_toast_mustard_dipI made these a couple of nights later and used the same recipe – I just didn’t turn the little toasts over to brown the other side – so here you can see the bread (on the bottom) is still just bread. And I didn’t heed my own directions – of spreading the shrimp mixture out to all the edges, so you see the bread in the oil almost got too brown. White bread slices are used – remove the crusts, then the inner portion is cut into small squares, about 1” square. You’ll get about 6 out of each slice of bread. Meanwhile, you heat up a frying pan with oil. You don’t need but about 1/4 inch of oil. I have a nice big newer electric frypan now, and I used that because you can maintain a consistent 350° with the oil – the recipe called for peanut oil, but that stuff is so darned expensive these days, I opted to use vegetable oil instead. It takes about 10 minutes to heat the oil. Then, using a spreader/knife, you spread some (a fairly tiny dab, actually) of the shrimp/egg white mixture onto the top of the little square of bread, and each one is placed shrimp side down into the hot oil.

It takes about 30 seconds for the shrimp to be done – and the edges begin to turn golden brown. In the first batch I did fry them on the other side. If you want to reduce the amount of fat you would consume with these, just cook the shrimp side only. The bread, which is not in oil at all will still be soft. You could try it that way and taste it. Do let them cool for a couple of minutes before eating them, as they’re WAY hot! You can make these in bigger squares (like 4 per slice of bread) but I think the little bitty ones make for easier finger food. Do serve napkins as they might ooze some oil onto your hands.

In the 2nd photo you can see the mustard dipping sauce. You don’t have to use the sauce, but it was pretty darned good. It added a little “bite” to the toasts.

What’s GOOD: crunchy, tasty, little bites of shrimp goodness. Don’t use canned shrimp! I loved these things, but they’re full of fat. The nutrition info below doesn’t include the oil I cooked them in – so am sure it’s higher in calorie and fat than indicated. Don’t serve too many per person – they’re very filling.

What’s NOT: just that they must be made immediately before serving. The recipe said they can be reheated, but no, sealed up in foil they won’t be anywhere near as good (and crunchy) as fresh out of the frying pan. You don’t have to use an electric frypan – it’s just harder to maintain an even heat using a small frying pan over a flame.

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Shrimp Toast with Mustard Dipping Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class I took in the 1970s
Serving Size: 8

6 slices white bread — crusts removed, cut into 1-inch squares (use day-old, preferably)
FILLING/TOPPING:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons green onions — finely minced
1/2 cup fresh shrimp — (or crab) minced
1 tablespoon sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons salt — (optional)
2 whole egg whites — beaten until foamy
Peanut oil for frying (about 1/2 cup) – or vegetable oil
HOT MUSTARD SAUCE:
3 tablespoons dry mustard
rice wine vinegar – add enough to make a wet dipping sauce

1. FILLING: Combine all ingredients except the egg whites and mix thoroughly. Everything must be minced up finely. Just before you’re ready to start frying, add foamy egg whites and mix in gently, but thoroughly.
2. Prepare frying pan. Ideally, heat an electric skillet to 360° and add enough oil to about 1/4 inch deep. You may also use a neutral oil, but the peanut oil imparts a lovely flavor.
3. Spread the filling on top of each toast piece and spread to the edges.
4. When the oil is hot, fry the toasts filling side DOWN until the edges have turned golden brown, about 30-45 seconds. It’s not necessary to fry the other side, but if you prefer, you can, but it won’t take long. Remove toasts and drain on paper towel for about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix up mustard sauce by combining the dry mustard with rice wine vinegar until it’s the consistency of a slurry. Place in a small flat plate or a wide, but small bowl for dipping.
6. Serve toasts hot with the mustard sauce.
7. LEFTOVERS: They can be reheated in foil a 300° oven for about 10 minutes – but they won’t be crispy.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the little bit of oil that will be absorbed into the toasts during frying): 88 Calories; 1g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 537mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on February 4th, 2016.

shrimp_cocktail_avocados_tomatoes_lime

An elegant appetizer, a time to use those really good, BIG shrimp that you’ve saved for a special occasion. Diced tomatoes are added in and the piquant lime juice adds a zing.

It’s been a couple of months ago now, that my friend Cherrie and I went to the Phillis Carey Diva class. She prepared this that day, and I’d forgotten all about it, to share with you. It’s very easy to make – just have good shrimp to use (none of those little bitty things, or canned),  but you don’t want or need to use the gigantic shrimp, either. In fact, you can cut the shrimp into more bite-sized pieces, so there’s no need to buy the most expensive ones. Phillis always prefers to start with raw shrimp (all the shells removed, including the tail shell) and she sautés them in olive oil. Out they go to a waiting bowl. To the skillet you add lime juice and zest, add it to the shrimp, then you add some chopped white onion, serrano chile, garlic and more olive oil. That’s really it.

Phillis prefers to serve this with some fresh chopped tomato, the avocados, of course, and garnishes it with some sliced black olives (optional) and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge. It can be made UP to 24 hours ahead (without the avocado and tomato and garnishes, though).

What’s GOOD: well, if you’re a lover of shrimp, then you’ll be in hog-heaven. If you like ceviche (a raw fish appetizer), this kind of is similar in that the lime juice somewhat “cooks” the fish. In this recipe you do cook the shrimp completely before adding in everything else. It’s a very satisfying appetizer – good textures. Lots of flavor.

What’s NOT: probably just the cost of shrimp these days! And finding good avocados without bruises! That seems to be a challenge for me of late.

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Shrimp Cocktail with Avocados, Tomatoes, Olives and Fresh Lime

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds medium shrimp — cleaned, tails removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup white onion — chopped
1 whole serrano chile — finely chopped (with or without seeds)
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 whole avocados — diced and rinsed with water
1 1/4 cups plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
1/2 cup black olives — sliced (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 pieces lime wedges — garnish

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Saute until shrimp are just barely opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp and any juices to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add lime juice and zest to the skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Pour over the shrimp in the bowl. Add the onion, chile, garlic and additional amount of olive oil to the shrimp. Cool to room temp before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours (no longer than that).
3. When ready to serve, gently fold in the sliced avocados, tomatoes, olives (if using) and cilantro. Spoon mixture evenly in martinii glasses or small bowls and serve with a lime wedge on the side.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 19g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 11th, 2015.

cranberry_jalapeno_salsa_appetizer

Are you ready for December entertaining? If you’d like to make a really tasty, cranberry-seasonal appetizer that’s SUPER EASY, try this cranberry salsa that has a bit of kick from jalapeno. Absolutely super.

For Thanksgiving, every year, I make my cranberry relish. It’s a raw relish, and I remember my mother making something similar one year when I was probably a teenager. I took her recipe (cranberries, oranges, sugar) and made a few additions (ground ginger and apple) and that’s been my go-to cranberry relish ever since. Now when I found THIS appetizer recipe, back in 2008, it sounded so similar to that regular raw cranberry relish, but it’s an appetizer. And it has jalapeno chile in it. And cumin. Oh, and cilantro. It’s such an unlikely combination, but it sure does work.

If you’re having a smaller crowd, make half the recipe below – I used the full 12 ounces of cranberries – and I have quite a lot of this.

What’s the best part – how EASY it is to make. First whiz up a medium jalapeno (more if you like spicy) and a couple of green onions – they need to be finely minced. Then add in the fresh cranberries, sugar, cilantro and ground cumin. Whiz that up for 15+ seconds, pulsing, maybe scraping down the sides at least once, and it’s DONE. Scoop out into a container and refrigerate it for at least a few hours, preferably overnight – which gives the sugar a chance to dissolve and the flavors to come together. If you like spice (heat) add 2 jalapenos. When I tasted it – when I made it – I thought whoa – this is going to be too hot, but when it’s spread on a cracker with cream cheese, it totally mellows out the heat. Next time I will be adding more jalapeno to it.

At least 2 hours before you’re ready to serve this take out the 8-ounce block of cream cheese and let it sit out in its package, to soften. Yes, it will be fine – and it will be soft and spreadable when that time is  up. Put it out on a serving plate and nicely spread the salsa on top and add crackers or tortilla chips and you’re done. I happened to have some of Trader Joe’s pumpkin raisin cracker/toasts which were just super with this.

What’s GOOD: everything about this is good – easy, quick, and extremely tasty. I couple of days after I made this and served it, I had it for lunch. That was my lunch – crackers, cheese (protein) and fruit, albeit with sugar added in. I’ll definitely be making this again and again.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything that isn’t great about this appetizer. Make it, okay?

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

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Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted very slightly from Cookbook Junkies (blog)
Serving Size: 10

12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium jalapeno chile pepper — chopped (use more if you enjoy the heat)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
2 green onions — chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
A cilantro leaf or two for garnish
Tortilla chips, crackers or petite toasts for serving

NOTE: make the cranberry salsa the day before, if possible, or at least 6-8 hours ahead so the sugar has time to dissolve and the flavors to meld. If you like spicy food, add more jalapeno. Some recipes call for 2 of them. If you taste the mixture you may think it’s spicy with just one jalapeno, but once you add cream cheese to the bite, you’ll hardly notice the heat from the jalapeno.
1. Allow cream cheese block to sit out at room temp (in the package) for a full 2 hours to soften.
2. SALSA: In a food processor add the jalapeno and green onions first, and whiz those up first so they’re very small. Then add all of the ingredients, except the cream cheese and blend until it’s finely minced, but so the cranberries still have just a little bit of form.
2. You can buy whipped cream cheese, or whip it yourself, or just use fully softened cream cheese and place on the plate.
3. Pour the salsa over the cream cheese and serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or petite toasts.
Per Serving: 157 Calories; 8g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 69mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 3rd, 2015.

safari_hummus

The chef at Sandibe (pronounced san-dee-bey), the safari camp where this was served, just called it hummus, but because peanuts are such a major player in the cuisine of Africa, I started calling it safari hummus. Instead of tahini, they used peanut butter. It’s a surprising change of flavor.

I don’t think I expected to be served hummus in Africa. Maybe in a cosmopolitan city yes, but out in the bush? Yet it was very refreshing. They served it with fresh vegetables – icy cold carrots and celery, which tasted particularly good after being out on a morning game drive. I made this the other day to take to a luncheon (my friend Cherrie had a Halloween lunch for a bunch of her girlfriends). Several people commented on it – that they liked this and hoped I would be posting it here. Here you go, friends.

The safari camps must be used to people asking for recipes for their dishes – they delivered them usually the next day after I asked. I came home with several, as I mentioned last week.

This takes no time whatsoever to make. But if you did it exactly as they made it with roasted garlic (instead of fresh, which is what I used) it would take a bit longer. It was hot the morning I made this and I just didn’t feel like roasting the garlic, easy as it is to do – I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen. I’ve left the recipe as-is, below, so you can decide whether you want to roast it or not. Do use soft peanut butter (like JIF creamy), not the natural stuff, and not any peanut butter with nut chunks in it. The hummus is made completely in the food processor – it contains a fair amount of lemon juice which gives it some tang. And there is cayenne in it too, which gives it a kick. Make it the day before if you have the time so the flavors can meld.

What’s GOOD: the peanut butter is subtle – some people could pick it out of the flavor mélange – but some couldn’t determine what was different about it. I liked the option of pureeing the first can of garbanzo beans so it’s smooth, then adding in the 2nd can and leaving some of the chunkiness there. It gives the hummus some texture.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open)

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Safari Hummus

Recipe By: From “And Beyond” safari camps, Africa, 2015
Serving Size: 12

3 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, saving 1/3 cup juice
3 tablespoons roasted garlic — chopped [I used 2 large cloves of fresh garlic]
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cumin seeds — toasted and ground
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup peanut butter — creamy, like JIF
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped [reserve some for garnish]
1 teaspoon salt

1. Blend half of the garbanzo beans with everything else on the list – except the parsley – in a food processor. Puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.
2. Add the other half of the beans and process a short time – you want to have a bit of texture to the mixture.
3. Add the parsley and add some of the garbanzo bean liquid if the mixture is too thick. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate for a few hours to blend the flavors. Serve with bread or crackers or with freshly cut vegetables (carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber rounds). Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Per Serving: 190 Calories; 13g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 384mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on August 11th, 2015.

fresh_tomato_bruschetta_toasts

Recently I visited with friends who live in Morrison, Colorado. Sue and her husband Lynn are foodies as I am, so Sue and I spent some time preparing lunch and dinner things. One night, after we’d been out for a nice lunch and weren’t overly hungry, we didn’t feel like having a regular, big dinner. So Sue made (with me helping just to chop up the tomatoes) these delicious bruschetta appetizers. These are different only in that fresh mozzarella cheese is toasted on the little baguette slices and THEN the bruschetta stuff is scooped on top.

When my friends used to live here in California, we frequently had one another over for dinner. We always had lively conversations, and talked about the wine we were drinking, or wines we’d had or were going to buy. And trips we had taken, were taking, or were talking about taking. My DH and I visited them a few years ago in Colorado, so there were shared memories of our previous visit.

toasts_to_toastThis appetizer took relatively little time to make, from beginning to end. A lovely baguette had been purchased the day before at a farmer’s market in Boulder, along with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Sue had basil growing in pots on her deck, and she had fresh mozzie. Plus some garlic, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar. You can serve this hot with a bowl of the topping, or you can serve it up freshly stacked, with napkins. It was our main course, and we ate a lot of them. Sue had gotten the recipe online at Taste of Home. I’ve renamed them, only because they’re not quite a typical bruschetta – the mozzie on the bottom makes them a bit different – a bit more substantial. So I’m calling them “toasts.” You could make them on bigger pieces of baguette or other bread and they’d be open-faced bruschetta sandwiches even. Any way you make them, they’re delicious.

What’s GOOD: these would be good even if you didn’t use the mozzie underneath, but that one thing makes them a bigger, nicer tidbit of an appetizer. Or a light lunch. These were delish, and although I don’t make bruschetta very often, if I make it in the future, I think I’ll use this recipe.

What’s NOT: well, you’ve got to have all the ingredients – the fresh mozzie, the good, ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, Italian parsley etc. If so, you’re in business!

printer-friendly PDF  and Files: MasterCook 5+ and MasterCook 14 (click link to open in MC)

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Fresh Tomato Bruschetta Toasts

Recipe By: From Taste of Home, but from my friend Sue
Serving Size: 12 (2 per person)

4 whole plum tomatoes — seeded and chopped (Sue used heirloom)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves — minced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette — 12″ long, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup butter — softened (optional)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella — sliced

1. In a small bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients.
2. Spread baguette slices with butter (Sue didn’t do this step – she thought the cheese was enough); top each with a cheese slice. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Broil 3-4 ” from the heat for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
3. With a slotted spoon, top each slice with about 1 tablespoon tomato mixture. Serve immediately with napkins if you’re making this finger food.
Per Serving: 247 Calories; 14g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 429mg Sodium.

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